I've worked harder this year on my running than ever before. I enlisted the expertise of a coach who significantly upped the intensity of my weekly workouts and helped me break mental and physical barriers. I ran 10 races this year, 6 of them since mid-August. Except for what turned out to be a minor set back, I've had a good season dotted with PRs, podium places, and best of all, a new outlook on what is possible for me in terms of speed: I achieved my overarching goal of consistently having 6:XXs in my race times and splits. Never mind that I'm 51 and only started running seriously at age 45. The proof is in the pudding – I'm getting faster.
But racing – running at near 100% effort – demands a lot from your body. Even if you don't race, running still can take a physical toll over time, particularly if you do not strength train or cross train to help counter injuries. This is especially true as we age.
"Prehab," not rehab
Many experts advocate taking a complete break from running for 1 to 2 weeks after each season. I think this is especially important after completing a marathon or ultra and for masters runners. It's advice I certainly should have heeded after running the NYC Marathon. I'd felt deceivingly good and returned to running too quickly; I ended up with IS joint issues.
Now that the fall racing season is over, I have almost an entire month before I need to start training for the 2017 Boston Marathon and more importantly, for my spring goal races. So I'm taking a month off from working with my fab coach and from training. I'll still be running, but mostly for the sheer joy of it.
My diet is pretty clean during the race season – within limits. (I'm not an ascetic.) The nutrients keep me well and the overall plan allows me to remain at the low-but-healthy end of my racing weight. But I will loosen up over the holidays and indulge in some of my favorite treats. In fact, I already started, as you can see from the cupcake photo.
Will I put on a pound or two in the process? Sure. But it will all even out when marathon training begins, so who cares? Life's too short to miss out on Carrot Cake Cupcakes – or whatever your favorite treat is.
Next week, I plan on only running 20 mostly easy-peasy miles, perhaps even fewer, with 1 speed workout to keep the snap in my legs. This is very low mileage for me, but I'm doing it in the spirit of "prehab not rehab." Just as I know my diet needs a healthy rehaul every once in awhile, I also know that I need the discipline to cut back on my running so that my body can heal from all I've put it through over the past season. My gym offers loads of classes that I never have time to take when I am training for a race. So next week, I'll probably indulge in light cross-training – some combination of yoga, zumba, and spinning. I'll probably also embark on some long nature walks. Not only will it give my overused running muscles a much needed break, but it will also give me perspective. Plus, it will be fun! I'll definitely post a recap of my down-time week workouts.
The mental drain of racing
No matter how chill you are, racing can also be mentally draining at any age. It's hard to be "on" all the time, and know that you need to try hard and suffer time after time. Pushing yourself hurts. If it didn't, everyone would do it.
This past weekend was the first weekend in over a month that I didn't have a race. Although I love the camaraderie and challenge of racing, it sure was nice to stay out late, sleep in, putter about, bake (and eat!) cookies, cook elaborate dinners, and do other things I normally don't have the time or energy to do. I'm sure I'll grow weary of it eventually, but you need space around all experiences to fully appreciate them.
Right now, I'm appreciating the relaxing hobbies I enjoy but never have time for like painting, coloring, and knitting. And conversely, when it's time to start training for Boston at the end of the year, I will hopefully have had enough space around serious running to enthusiastically dive back in.
Addicted to running
Why is it hard for some runners (*raises hand*) to take downtime? I think it's because running is addictive, in a good, self-preserving way. Running – or any kind of exercise that raises your heart rate – is a natural antidepressant and improves outcomes for a slew of other health markers. You've heard of runners' high? Well, those endorphins are definitely addictive. As an added bonus, if you run or exercise outside, you are also getting an extra dose of vitamin D via exposure to the sun. It's essential for bone health, neuromuscular and immune function and most importantly, reducing inflammation.
So you see, I am addicted to running for physical as well as mental reasons. But too much of a good thing is not a good thing. So relaxation week, here I come.